Monday, April 20, 2015


 Inspiration for a quilt happens for me when a memory has found its match in fabric and design. I communicate the meaning behind my quilts when I write down the memories that sparked it. Combined with the pictures I take of the quilt, a blog post tells my story. In the feedback I received "From Hell to Breakfast," just one little word made me rethink everything. The quilt was termed as "art" and I froze. Crazy, right? All of a sudden I started thinking of everything I needed to do differently if I were making "art." In the end, I got things rolling again when I went back to the story. Derailed by a word, and put back on track by a whole bunch of them. The mind is a curious place.

alison glass handcrafted

When I was younger, we had the most awesome flannel quilt ever. It was a retro donkey with a little straw hat (complete with flower sprig) and a sign around its neck that said, "Smart Ass." I come by this trait genetically. I really can't help it. So, I decided to have a little fun with the idea of an "art" quilt for the Alison Glass mini swap.

alison glass handcrafted

What was my smart ass version of an "art" quilt? A flower study. Framed. I called it, "What's In a Word?"  My partner liked blue, green, gray, gold and orange and fell more towards the traditional end of the quilt spectrum. I pulled out everything I had in those tones and experimented again with a technique I tried out in my last post, inserting thin strips of pieced text fabrics between two triangles, then squaring down to the desired size. The center is half-square triangles without a  text print inserted. I drew out simple shapes for the flowers, vase and leaves and used needle turn applique to apply. I quilted it using So Fine! thread in #436 using a simple free motion design in the center and straight line quilting around the frames. It finishes at 16.5" x 16.5." It was therapeutic to make a quilt that made me laugh after all my self-imposed angst. I really hope my partner likes it.

alison glass handcrafted

Words can also be powerful transmitters of memory. My grandmother decided very late in her life that she would like to receive a doctorate in folklore. She completed her dissertation and was one class away from graduation when grandpa got sick. She quit without a second's thought, observing with her usual pragmatism that all that could be done was to carve the letters Ph.D on her gravestone. Her dissertation was published as a book called "Wood Stoves and Woolen Stockings" about her experiences growing up in a remote pioneer community. She began her book by owning the word "isolated." She expressed that each person had a word (or more than one) that was a key component in the definition of self. I've spent more time than I'd care to admit wondering what my words were.

I discovered one by accident when I lived in Boston. I love, birds, trees, so it was easy to understand why I'd joined a garden tour. At one point, I was even moved enough to exclaim, "Oh my, that peony bush is spectacular!" Seeing the profusely blooming plant immediately took me back to my childhood. Our neighbor across the street had the most glorious peonies, and they always seemed to bloom at just the right time for Memorial Day. She saved her coffee cans all year for us, and we would make beautiful homemade peony bouquets to take to our family's graves. We'd load up the car with the flowers and make our loop of the cemeteries. My mom and dad could always tell who had been there before us by what was left at the gravestones. My grandpa had been a Boy Scout leader who had taken extra care to be good to a boy that had lost his father, often taking him fishing. Every year that boy brought a half-scale fishing pole that he'd made to leave on grandpa's grave. I never met my grandpa. That fishing pole was one of the only ways that I knew him and it meant a lot to me to know that his memory was still cherished by this boy decades later. Remembering was part of the ritual and we remembered with peonies.

 I was thinking of all this when I made my comment during the garden tour. I guess the only problem was the way I said it. I pronounced the flower "Pee-oh-nee" just like I had for my entire life. The person who heard turned to me and quickly (and with more than a touch of condescension) drawled, "You mean, "Pee-uh-nee?" The regular Jill would have laughed and rolled her eyes. The reminiscent Jill who had just subconsciously identified one of her defining words was not so jolly. "No," I snapped. "I mean 'pee-OH-nee,' which is why I said it that way." Kind of a conversation-ender.

I thought of peonies while I was deciding what to make for my Anna Maria Horner swap partner. She told me lots of things about herself, but the thing that stuck with me the most was that she had just moved to a place a large distance from her hometown. I get that.

So, I made her a bear. A bear named "Peony." This is the Big Bear pattern from Tartankiwi. I printed the paper pieces at 75% and trimmed down the center even more so I could add an improv element to the borders. It reminded me a little bit of fences, which also reminded me a little bit of my home. It is also quilted in So Fine! #436 thread in a straight line pattern and finishes at 23" x 23."

 My advice (for what it's worth)?  Remember your words (or find them). Take your memories (and your ACCENT!!!) with you. Be open to new experiences. Add to what you have, but never change who you are.

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From Hell to Breakfast

I never realized that I spoke a foreign language until I moved to Boston.

I am from rural Idaho and knew on an abstract level that I had a twangy accent, but I never thought that it made me indecipherable. Humph. Within moments of my first telephone call with my future husband, he was twittering about the "git"s and "agin"s. Luckily for me, he found it charming and didn't tease me too much about it.

After I moved out to Boston, I soon grew used to the puzzled or shocked expressions I received whenever I opened my mouth. For awhile I worked at a bank. Once when a mother came in with her young daughter, I held out the basket of treats and asked if she'd like a sucker. The mother recoiled as if I'd slapped her. My co-workers barely held in the explosion of laughter until the mother and daughter cleared the front door. Apparently they are called "pops" there. A "pop" is something I consume with a hamburger and french fries, but fine. I may have had a millisecond pause to translate every time I held out the treat basket, but I never made that mistake again.

This quilt is made in honor of the first time I opened my mouth and shocked my brand-new husband. As we sat down to dinner, I apologized about the mess in the kitchen. "It will take us forever to clean up," I said, "I've got stuff spread from hell to breakfast in there." I knew from the look on his face that I'd gone and said something outrageous again. Luckily for me (again), he is a great connoisseur of colorful euphemisms and now uses that particular one as often as I do.

I sketched out a road map for this quilt on graph paper before I started. It is helpful for me to visualize where design elements are before I begin so I can just have fun with the piecing and not over think too much. I approached this like a giant log cabin, beginning with a center unit and then adding slabs of piecing to build outward. Once I had a design framework, it was easy to let the improv piecing just happen. In addition to its title, I can see a lot of my humor in this. I accidentally pieced a skull into my "Hell" quilt. I had a good laugh at that one. I had also planned a series of different elements of piecing to help pull the eye through the quilt and I was concerned that I hadn't emphasized the top piece enough, so in the next row I added to the quilt, I made some arrows to point at it. Problem solved, Jill style. Ha!

Since I was making this as an entry to the Pantone Quilt Challenge, I knew that I needed to make Marsala a major color component. I gathered all the fabric I had that closely resembled Marsala, then added shades of gold, brown, teal, blue, red, plum and green. The fabric I selected to be my main Marsala color is an interweave chambray in berry. To make sure that I ended up with a Marsala quilt despite the addition of all the extra colors, I made sure to include a piece of that fabric in every chunk of improvisational piecing that I did. Marsala is literally the glue that holds this quilt together. (In case you are wondering, in the picture above, it is the center square directly above the skull.)

The worst part of this quilt was the number it did on my sewing room. I once taught with a woman who had a sign on the door of her first grade classroom that said "Learning is NOISY." Well, improv piecing is MESSY. Every horizontal surface was littered with snippets, thread (I used linen blends, chambray and peppered cotton which all shed thread like crazy) and little triangle pieces from constructing the flying geese units. In the spirit of cleaning up, I made a bonus mini with most of the little scraps that were left over. I pieced the snippets into thin strips and sandwiched them between two triangles. I squared the units to 2.5" and pieced them together in rows. I love the movement that emerges. I would like to make more of these someday. Maybe another time when I should be cleaning up?

Taking the pictures of this quilt was definitely an adventure. We took our kids out to a nature park that we love on a warmish day. Unfortunately it was warm and windy. In some of these pictures, my oldest son is sitting on his dad's feet holding the quilt down. Son #2 rode his scooter and our just-turned-two year old daughter waited not so patiently in her stroller. I looked up from the camera in surprise to see her sprinting down the path. Little Houdini had gotten out of her stroller while leaving her securely fastened seat belt still securely fastened. We put her back into her seat, under protest, and sat back to watch. She slipped her arms out from the shoulder straps, placed her hands on the seat of the stroller and used it like a pommel horse to lift her legs out of bottom straps. Thirty seconds, tops. We decided that any little girl that creative and enterprising deserved to run, so we let her.

It didn't hurt that she ran down the path shouting "agin" with relish and triumph. That's my girl!

This quilt top measures at 54" x 66."

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

2015 Pantone Quilt Challenge: Marsala